(the mid-1920s – 1939)
A picket in front of our business
Our business, as we called our men’s garment and ladies’ coat shop, was located in the very heart of Poznan, at the Old Market Square 64. It was a great location: on the first floor of the tenement house, which was the second one from the Szkolna Street corner. You must open large double doors, then climb the stairs to the first floor and enter the door on the right. There you could see a small square corridor with two doors opposite each other. The left one led to our business, and the right one to our tailor’s workshop. During my school years I often came to the shop at dinner time to replace Daddy at the cashier’s counter, and when I was almost twenty I always opened the shop at eight in the morning.
Our shop was large and so long that it reached Kozia Street. It had two wide and high windows facing the Old Market Square, and the old and the New Town Hall*. There was Daddy’s desk by the windows. The clothes sorted according to size, hung on bars along the both walls in two lines, one above another. All clothes were made by our tailors out of good quality Lodz wool.
One of shop assistants always came up to each customer entering our shop. He asked for their needs, showed the clothes, advised and arranged possible adjustments. There were bales of cloth on separate shelves. If a customer needed a special style or size, he could have chosen the textile, fixed the term and had the clothes sewed by our tailors. Daddy never sold by himself, but he talked to the customers if they had any special orders. – Next time I will bring some cloth from Lodz for you, if you wish – he said. If he saw there was no chance of satisfying the customer, he sent him to another merchant.
The shop was lighted by several lamps with wide lampshades so as to give more light. Shop assistants put the clothes on a long table that was placed in the middle, right under the lamps. Very few customers were satisfied with the first suits they were offered. There was always something wrong, the style or the size. Besides, most people wanted to see and try on a few ones before they decided. The wives of buying men could have took a seat, as there were chairs for them by the walls. They could also have bought ladies’ coats in the department served by different shop assistants until Wala Styzynska, having a great attitude towards female customers, took this position for good. Daddy held Wala in high regard. Sometimes, there were no customers in the shop. The shop assistants stood by the window then, and looking at the Old Market Square, they talked or told new jokes. Daddy was willing to join them, especially when they discussed politics. Other times he read newspapers.
Daddy opened a tailor’s workshop next to the store in case a demanding customer needed a tailor urgently. He had to pay for this room, anyway. He employed a few Polish tailors and he worked with them at the beginning. There was a big, wide table, with bales of cloth and manually driven machine cutting forms on it. In order to sew a suit, you had to draw with chalk elements of a jacket, vent or trousers on fabric. Then, a few layers of fabric were heaped up in the way the chalked one was on the top, and the machine cut with its very sharp knife six or seven forms at once. Then, the suits were made of those forms. All the times the sewing machines were rattling by the walls.
Later on, Daddy closed this workshop as it wasn’t profitable. First, he cut the forms himself but then, he only cut fabric into parts in needed amounts and gave it to tailor homeworkers to sew. He told them the sizes and the number of pieces, and payed them when the clothes were ready to take. Daddy let out the vacant room to another tailor, who was self-employed. His name was Moller, I think.
Although models and patterns were changing a little bit in the following years, the cutting process remained the same, just the cut number and the suit size switched. If a customer was substandard or he wanted to have some special suit, the tailor always took his measurement. We had separate jacket tailors and trousers ones, making only particular elements of garments. There were winter suits, summer suits, and also sport ones with a turn-down collar and specific pockets. Each kind was made of different, thicker or thinner wool, all in different colours, mostly navy blue, grey and black. The tailors made also ladies’ coats. They were brown, navy blue, green, beige… We had regular customers, mostly Polish ones. They knew that they would get well-cut clothes in our shop, so they willingly came back. Moreover, Tatulinski accepted pawn when they didn’t have the whole sum and waited until they payed all money back. One day, our regular customer came. He cried and said that his daughter died, and his wife needed a black coat for the funeral, but they had not enough money. Daddy accepted his pawn and gave him the coat. This man payed it back in two or three months.
There were some customers who suspected our business to be Jewish, though the company name was „Melpoz” and shop assistants, if asked, always said that the shopkeeper came from Russia. Nevertheless, they came back to us if they were satisfied. One day, it was about 1937, a picket stood up on the pavement in front of our business. He was hired by somebody, I don’t remember by whom, maybe by some Polish competitor. Telling the people who left our shop that this was a Jewish store, he tried to discourage them from buying at us. But the customer kept coming. Several people admitted that they pushed the picket away, as he tried to prevent them from entering.
Zygmunt and Mummy
In May 1930, my cousin Zygmunt Melamedzon, a son of aunt Sara, came to help us with running a business. We had been loved each other like brothers and sisters since our childhood in Kharkiv. After her husband’s death aunt Sara with her children fled revolutionary Russia. She managed to save her jewelry and other valuables, which were to protect her future, but she got robbed in Brzeziny. She rented a flat and hid all the valuables in a wardrobe, under bed linen. One day, when she went out to the market, someone broke into her house and stole the jewelry. She was left with nothing. Her parents let her live in their flat’s room. The aunt had to live in a small way and she didn’t have money for children education. After graduating elementary school, Policzka and Zygmus, the twins, were to attend the gymnasium. Unfortunately Brzeziny gymnasium had been closed because of too few pupils. There was a new, high-level school in Koluszki, but the aunt had no money to pay the children’s stay in another town. Later, Pola was earning some money playing the piano during the silent films shown in the Brzeziny cinema. Zygmunt, in turn, came to Poznan when he was almost twenty. The family convinced Tatulinski to take him to his shop and let him learn the clothing business. Ozzi, Zygmunt’s older brother, worked at that time as a book-keeper at his uncles’ clothing company and he did well.
In the beginnig, Zygmunt was helping the shop assistants. We already had one boy, who worked as a messenger, a carrier, and also cleaned the shop. Zygmunt liked Poznan. He was a dark blonde and looked like a Pole. They liked each other with our another boy and one Sunday they went together to a picnic which was somewhere out of the town. Zygmunt came back drunk. He sat on the sofa and vomited. I told him to lay down, then I cleaned the floor and aired the living room. Fortunately, Mummy was out and never learnt about this incident. Even so, she eventually started to complain about his stay. She hated it when anybody, even a relative, lived at our place for a long time. We had a three- room flat. My parents slept in a room from the Wroniecka side and I had my own room with a window facing a backyard. So, Zygmunt had to sleep on a sofa in the living room, which Mummy didn’t like. She started to insist on sending him back to Brzeziny. Tatulinski yielded at last, as he often yielded to Mummy. Zygmunt left in October. Later he worked, just like Ossi, in their uncles’ company, but even as an adult, he lived with his mom and Policzka in one room in their grandparents’ flat.
*The New Town Hall – a new part of the Poznan Town Hall, built in 1893 on the northern side of the Old Marker Square, damaged during the World War II; not existing today. Now, there is the reconstructed building of Waga Miejska (City Scales) there, which used to stand in this place till 1890.